July NFC Team Dispatches

Lee MatthewsCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 07: Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears returns a punt against the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 7, 2008 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Jaguars 23-10. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Need a primer on stories you'll likely be hearing about when camps open July?

There are plenty of positions yet to filled, expectations that will fail to be met and players who will surprise. Here's a look at what questions NFC teams are facing:


The Bears have nothing at wide receiver to keep teams off of emerging Devin Hester (51 catches in 2008).

Earl Bennett didn't catch a pass as a rookie third round pick in 2008. That just isn't promising. Rashied Davis is best as a fourth wideout. Rookie Juaquin Iglesias is just that, a rookie. There is no one else of consequence on the roster.

Jay Cutler had better hope for Plaxico Burress, or at least someone Matt Jones-esque to emerge, or signs.

The Lions rebuilt their cornerback position in the offseason, but did they really improve? The moves feel like a bandage.

Former Cowboy Anthony Henry is on his last legs on one side and Phillip Buchanon is, at best, a No. 2 cornerback on the other. The Bucs wanted Buchanon back as a free agent, but only as their nickel back.

Another signee, former Titan Eric King, isn't bad off the bench, but it wouldn't be shocking to see returnee Keith Smith wind up starting.

Despite being addressed, the position will again be a question going into 2010 (so will tackle, poorly taken care of with greybeards Grady Jackson and Chuck Darby).

Anyone think Green Bay could have stayed in a 4-3 and been a much better defense this season than in 2008—just from the draft? Instead they went for the full on 3-4 shakeup.

The Pack could have lined up rookie B.J. Raji at tackle next to Ryan Pickett, with Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman at end, and the Pack would have a wicked line.

Throw in reserves Justin Harrell and (2008 starter) Johnny Jolly inside, Mike Montgomery and Jeremy Thompson at end—and a nice rotation would have worked.

Plus, the linebacker group of rookie Clay Matthews, Nick Barnett, and A.J. Hawk would have been solid.

If Aaron Kampman can't get used to being a stand up outside linebacker, the Pack would have been better off staying in a 4-3.

And why do the Pack insist on having Scott Wells and Jason Spitz compete at center every offseason? The duo just winds up starting next to each other, anyway.

The Vikings are serious about cornerback competition.  Starters Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin return. Former Bronco and Chiefs nickel-types Karl Paymah and Benny Sapp were signed in the offseason. They join returnees Marcus McCauley and Charles Gordon, who have both started at various times.

In addition, the draft brought third-rounder Asher Allen.  Plus, safety Madieu Williams played some corner for the Bengals.

These guys will earn their gigs. Don't be surprised if all are employed somewhere in 2009.


The Cowboys still have a problem at strong safety. They dumped Roy Williams, but only brought in fringe-starter Gerald Sensabaugh as a replacement. The 'Boys wind up using a converted corner at some point during the season.

Either way, the position is still a weakness. Mike Brown, anyone?

With the news that Giants tackle Fred Robbins had microfracture surgery, the signings of Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty suddenly make a lot more sense.

Otherwise the team would have been completely reliant on reserve Jay Alford to start.
By the way, it'll be interesting to see who emerges at wideout for the club from the group of rookies Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, and 2008 third-rounder Mario Manningham.

If the team just winds up starting returnees Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon past midseason, something has gone wrong.

Is their a deeper overall team in the NFL than the Eagles? The team boasts five vets who have had their moments (Kevin Curtis, DeShaun Jackson, Reggie Brown, Jason Avant, Hank Baskett), plus rookie Jeremy Maclin.

Key line starters from 2008 Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole head to camp as reserve interior lineman.
Rookie LeSean McCoy will fill in for Brian Westbrook at running back, and the team finally has a legit fullback in Leonard Weaver.

On the topic of fullback, With Dan Klecko returning to defensive tackle after spending 2008 at fullback, the defensive line is more than two deep with the likes of Darren Howard, Klecko, Victor Abiamiri, Trevor Laws and Chris Clemons as reserves.

Reserves at corner include useful nickelback Joselio Hanson and former Pats starter Ellis Hobbs. And free agent addition and former Browns starter Sean Jones is a backup at safety until proven otherwise.

Throw in former starter Omar Gaither as a reserve linebacker, and the Eagles are deeper than just about any other team—on paper.

The Redskins don't look too scary on offense. Jason Campbell spent the offseason following trade rumors. There is a huge hole at right tackle. And once Santana Moss gets hurt, there's not much at wideout.

But thats when former Titan Roydell Williams could make his mark. Williams went for 55-719-4 in 2007 before sitting out 2008 due to a serious injury. If he's healthy, he'll get on the field.

His emergence could seal the deal as Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly as busts.


The Cardinals had better hope they can squeeze another year out of journeyman left tackle Mike Gandy. Otherwise, the line will get shuffled.

Maybe Reggie Wells would move back out to tackle from left guard, or Levi Brown would switch from right to left tackle. But if the team thinks they can throw Elton Brown or Brandon Keith out at left tackle, we'll all find out about Matt Leinart sooner rather than later.

I also wonder how the Cards are counting so much on Bryant McFadden at cornerback. Going back to his college days at Florida State, he never stays healthy and has never started an entire season. With Rod Hood's release, Ralph Brown is the top returnee. Better hope rookie Greg Toler works out quickly.

Is there a worse receiving core than the Rams' Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson, Tim Carter and Derek Stanley? I doubt it. They don't combine for 1,000 yards.
Can this really be the team that once had Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Ricky Proehl?
If Steven Jackson is healthy, he will catch many, many passes.

More bad news Rams fans. Is there a worse starting defensive tackle duo than Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan (less than 60 tackles, zero sacks between them)?

Will Vernon Davis please do something, anything to live up to the hype? That is all. Apparently the 49ers have another offensive coordinator who thinks they can exploit mismatches with him. Best wishes.

The Seahawks look better on defense going into 2009 than they have in a while, and they boosted the wideout pool. But if Julius Jones doesn't put up this season, Matt Hasselbeck will not make it to midseason in a vertical position. If you don't believe that, you must be T.J. Duckett.


Second-year corner Chevis Jackson needs to win the cornerback job opposite Chris Houston for the Falcons. Otherwise, Brent Grimes (not really starter quality) will hold the gig until veteran Von Hutchins proves he's back 100 percent from knee surgery.

It would also be good for the Falcons long term if Hutchins and Grimes are coming off the bench. The Falcons are a good team with a potentially scary bad secondary.

The Panthers look nice on paper, but an injury at cornerback or anywhere along the offensive line and they're facing issues.

The Panthers are counting on a rookie converted college safety as their top backup corner. While the likes of practice squad-types (tackle Geoff Schwartz) and unproven journeyman free agents (tackle Jonathan Palmer, center/guard Justin Geisinger) along the line for depth. Better hope the teams is bluffing about not adding anyone before camp.

Nice to see the Saints finally take fixing the secondary seriously.

It seems like it's been a problem since the days of Vaughn Johnson, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling and Rickey Jackson (they never did find a complement guy to play opposite Toi Cook).

Darren Sharper brings solid play to safety, while Malcolm Jenkins apparently looks like the real deal at corner, and will push Randal Gay for his job.

Promising Tracy Porter looks to start on the other side. That leaves the likes of former starter Jason David and addition and former Bill Jabari Greer also around.

Strong safety Roman Harper better have a nice camp too, or someone from the group of rookie Chip Vaughn or converted corner Usama Young migh just take his gig.

The Buccaneers defense might just be bad this season for the first time since Eric Curry roamed the Sombrero.

Jermain Phillips is moving to weakside linebacker from strong safety and the Bucs are treating it as no big deal.

Unproven Elbert Mack will be the nickelback.  Chiefs bust Ryan Sims will likely start at tackle.

Kiss those days of the Tampa-two goodbye folks.


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